The Prospector: introducing Jeff Costello, catching up with Joacim Eriksson, Joseph LaBate, Patrick McNally

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

With the NHL finally over officially, it’s time to look to the future. The NHL draft is just a couple weeks away, where every draft-eligible prospect will be endlessly compared to current NHL superstars and past Hall-of-Famers and fans will look for every scouting report they can find to assure themselves that their team’s newest prospects are surefire franchise players.

Before we get too wrapped up in that, however, let’s take a look at some of the players already in the Canucks’ prospect pool who may have slipped under the radar since being acquired or drafted by the team. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Canucks Prospects YouTube account, we have a plethora of highlight videos available. We’ll look at four players today, three of them from the NCAA.

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Jeff Costello: some chance is better than no chance

One of Mike Gillis’s final acts as General Manager of the Canucks was to trade undersized defenceman Patrick Mullen to the Ottawa Senators for 23-year-old winger Jeff Costello. The move was understandably overlooked in the media storm that surrounded the subsequent Roberto Luongo trade, but it’s worth revisiting for a couple reasons.

The first is that it was a pretty decent deal. Mullen was a pending UFA, who has re-signed with Ottawa, who had yet to play a single NHL game in his 5-year professional career and, at 27, seemed unlikely to do so. He was signed by the Canucks in 2012 as AHL depth, but suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery just two games into his time with the Chicago Wolves. The Canucks re-signed him and he had a reasonable year in Utica, but it was clear he would never play for the Canucks.

In return for Mullen, the Canucks got a player who has a shot at an NHL career. Costello had 30 points in 33 games last season, but took a step backward this season, managing just 22 points in 40 games, albeit while setting a career high in goals with 13. What I like is that he was second on Notre Dame in shots, with 122, averaging just over 3 shots per game.

It’s his other qualities, however, that make him a potential fit for a fourth line role with the Canucks in the future.

The 6’0″, 212 lb left winger is described on the Notre Dame website as a “hard-nosed physical player with great hands and a nose for the net” and “a true power forward.” It goes on to call him an “intimidating presence on the ice.” He plays in all situations and is a regular penalty killer. Costello even served as Notre Dame’s captain last season, adding the intangible quality of “leadership” to his curriculum vitae.

Trading a player aging out of being considered a prospect who had no chance of cracking the NHL roster for someone who still has a shot, if only in a depth role? That’s a solid move.

The second reason to revisit Costello is that he just completed his senior year at Notre Dame and will be turning pro this upcoming season. He’ll be coming into training camp looking to make an impression with his new team, particularly since the GM who traded for him is gone. Since, as an NCAA prospect, he has no contract, he’ll be looking to earn one, likely a two-way deal, this summer.

It helps that the Canucks’ new GM, Jim Benning, is looking for players that can contribute on the team’s third and fourth lines and Costello, with his reputation for both tough, two-way play and good hands around the net, seems to fit the bill. You can see his soft hands and finish on this breakaway insurance goal that ensured Notre Dame defeated the top-ranked Boston College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.

Personally, I’m looking forward to training camp to see how he compares to the Canucks’ other prospects. He has an edge in age at 23, but he will most likely start his professional career with Utica.

Joacim Eriksson: the Canucks’ other other Swedish goaltender

Two weeks ago I explored the possibility of the Canucks adding another goaltender in free agency, which rubbed a few people the wrong way, including Eddie Lack himself. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. The team should be able to find a capable tandem out of their trio of Swedish goaltenders to give them at least league-average goaltending at a below-average cost.

The most likely tandem is the same one that ended the season, with Lack as the starter and Jacob Markstrom as the backup. The Canucks are hoping that more time with goalie coach Rollie Melanson will help Markstrom fulfil his potential and another year in the AHL won’t help.

That means that Joacim Eriksson will likely spend a second season starting for the Utica Comets. The 24-year-old could use another year in the AHL, as it took him some time to settle in on the smaller ice. Once he did, however, he was very good for the Comets and stole several games for the first-year team.

Eriksson has both size and athleticism on his side and some of the saves in the above highlight video are simply ridiculous. His glove hand is particularly strong.

Highlight videos are, by their very nature, deceitful, as we only see the best of a player. Statistically, Eriksson didn’t have the best possible year. He finished with a .911 save percentage, 37th among 74 AHL goaltenders who started at least 10 games. So, basically, league-average.

If we exclude his first 7 games, where both he and the team were pretty terrible, Eriksson had a .916 save percentage in the remaining 45 games. That, incidentally, was also Cory Schneider’s save percentage in his first AHL season and Schneider had the benefit of being a backup to Drew Macintyre, while Eriksson was thrown into the deep-end as the number one goaltender as an AHL rookie.

I think pretty highly of Eriksson and look forward to seeing what he can do in his second AHL season. If Markstrom seriously struggles or there are injuries, we may even see him in a Canucks jersey.

Canucks need to see more from Joseph LaBate

The Canucks’ 4th round selection from 2011 had an impressive freshman season with the Wisconsin Badgers, scoring 20 points in 37 games. As an 18-year-old playing plenty of players in their early-20s, that was notable and had fans eager to see what the 6’4″ centre would do in the following years.

Unfortunately, he’s struggled to improve on that season, scoring 23 points in 41 games in his sophomore season and 22 in 37 games this past year as a junior.

He has, however, improved his goal totals each year, scoring 11 this season and also steadily improves his shot totals, finishing second on the Badgers in shots with 104, averaging 2.81 shots per game. These are reasons for optimism, as is how he was used this past year. With several talented seniors ahead of him on the depth chart, LaBate centred the second or third line last season, generally playing more of a defensive role from what I’ve seen.

As a 21-year-old senior next year, LaBate should more offensive opportunities. Wisconsin has Mark Zengerle, Michael Mersch, Tyler Barnes, and Jefferson Dahl all graduating and sophomore sensation Nicolas Kerdiles has signed with the Anaheim Ducks and won’t be back next year. That means LaBate will be charged with leading a young group of forwards for Wisconsin.

What hasn’t changed for LaBate is his tantalizing combination of size and skill. Any time you have a 6’4″ forward in the prospect pool who can skate well and handle the puck the way LaBate can, there’s reason to be excited. Still, LaBate will be expected to have a big season as a senior to pay off the potential he showed in his freshman year.

Patrick McNally moves past academic scandal, returns to Harvard

The Canucks selected Patrick McNally with their first pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft. It just happens that the first pick was in the fourth round.

Still, McNally immediately impressed, dominating Massachusetts prep hockey with 22 goals and 51 points in 28 games. He then had a superb freshman season at Harvard, scoring 28 points in 34 games, tied for 16th among NCAA defencemen. It was looking like a very savvy selection for the Canucks, with some scouts suggesting he had top-four potential in the NHL, though the defensive side of his game was a project.

That’s the issue: McNally needed to play to develop his game. Unfortunately, he missed nearly his entire sophomore season after getting suspended, along with three of his teammates and dozens of other students, in the wake of a plagiarism scandal.

It was unclear what McNally would do: he was too old for the USHL and would be unable to return to Harvard if he went pro. Ultimately, he just lost the season and returned to Harvard for his junior year. The missed year of development appears to have adversely impact McNally, who didn’t come anywhere near the heights of his freshman season.

McNally managed just 8 points in 20 games last season and his only goal was into an empty net. Still, he has good size, plenty of skill, and great offensive instincts. Like LaBate, it will be interesting to see what McNally can do in his senior season and whether that lost year of development will prevent him from reaching his potential.

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3 comments

  1. Kevin
    June 16, 2014

    We really do need to start referring to our trio of Swedish goalies as Tre Kronor…

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    June 17, 2014

    Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I strongly doubt if any of these guys ever becomes an NHL regular.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 17, 2014

      I disagree. I’d say each has at least a chance and I’d expect at least one of them to make it. Eriksson’s the most likely, if only as a backup, as he was pretty highly regarded in Sweden, but LaBate’s got the size and skill to contribute in the bottom-six, Costello’s a strong two-player and could be a capable grinder, and McNally has a ton of skill that has just been hampered by his lost year of development and questionable defensive side of his game. I think there’s still potential in all four.

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